The Life of St. Joan of Arc
Saint Joan of Arc was born on the night of the Feast of Epiphany, on January 6, 1412, in the village of Domremy in the Barrois region, now part of Lorraine on the border of Eastern France. Jaquot d’ Arc and Isabel were her parents, and they were devout Catholics. She was christened as Jehanne (Joan) after her mother’s sister and godmothers. She had three older brothers named Jacquemin, Jean and Pierre. She also had a sister named Catherine. Joan went to a chapel called Notre Dame de Bermont which still exists. She and Catherine would bring candles in honor of the Virgin Mary. Little did Joan know that soon she would start hearing voices that would lead her to take her country and fight England. How did this peasant girl become the champion of France?
According to contemporary accounts, Joan was a good, simple and sweet natured girl. Jean Morreau, her godfather said that “she was such a good girl that almost everyone in Domremy loved her” (http://joan-of-arc.org/joanofarc_life_summary_.html). She was a very dutiful girl. Joan was greatly committed to the service of God. She was a pious child, and loved the poor tenderly. The Arc family were wealthy peasants who owned a 50 acre farmland near the Meuse. In the busy season, Joan would help in the fields with haymaking and harvesting, handling the pitchfork and sickle like everyone else. She would often watch the sheep and drive the cattle to safety. But, for the most part, she was usually found working with her mother at home sewing, cleaning and cooking. Isabel, her mother, taught her beliefs in Christianity, God, Jesus and the Saints. Joan says, “my mother taught me and no one besides my mother taught me my beliefs” (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1.htm). It is interesting to note that Joan’s mother, like Joan herself could neither read or write yet they both had such knowledge and articulation when speaking that no one would have been able to guess.
It is important to know what was going on in France and England at this time. The land of France was caught up in the Hundred Years War and the English armies had conquered most of France. Furthermore, a civil war had erupted between the two factions of the French Royal family. This allowed the English to reinvade France. One faction was called the “Orleanists” or “Armagnacs” which was led by Count Bernard VII of Armgnacs and Duke Charles of Orlean. Their rivals, the other faction, was called the “Burgundians,” led by Duke John (http://joan_of_arc,org/joanofarc_short_biography.html). King Henry V of England invaded France in August 1415. The English returned in 1417, conquering much of Northern France and gaining support (1419) of the Burgundian Duke. Phillip agreed to recognize Henry V as the legal heir to the French throne and rejected Charles VII, the last heir of the Valois Dynasty which had ruled since 1328. After that, France was more or less conquered by the English.
Around 1424, when Joan was about 12, she started to have visions of Saint Catherine and Margaret (two early Christian martyrs) and Saint Michael, the Archangel (in the Bible the commander of Heaven’s armies who led the war against Satan). These voices summoned her to rescue France. She heard a voice first towards noon in the summertime in her father’s garden. She said that there was a light that was brilliant (http://ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1.htm). After she heard the voices three times, she understood that it came from God and knew that it was Michael the Archangel (protector of France) who came to her. The Voice told her to “govern herself well and go to church often” (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1.htm). After a year passed, Joan still saw visions, which became more commanding and pressing. Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine appeared to her frequently, at least once or twice a week. They told her to leave her home and to seek the king and tell him about her mission which was that God himself was sending her to give help to the kingdom and lead the Dauphin to Rheims for his coronation. Joan says, “I saw them; with the eyes of my own body as plainly as I see you and when they left me I cried, for I wanted them to take me with them” (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1.htm). To Joan, these visions were absolutely real and intense.
On October 12th, the city of Orleans was placed under siege by an Enlgish army under the Earl of Salisbury. After Joan’s third attempt to speak to Charles the Dauphin, she was finally granted Baudricourt’s permission to speak with him. Lorf Robert Baudricourt commanded for Charles VII in the towns of Vaucouleurs. Witnesses say she convinced Baudricourt by predicting (accurately) a French defeat north of Orleans. When her prediction was fulfilled, Baudricourt arranged for an armed escort to bring Joan to Charles. She was dressed in male clothing for protection. If they were capturedm she would be susceptible to rape. After 11 days of traveling on the road, she reached Charles. It seemed as if Charles did not believe her, but she was able to convince him to take her seriously by telling him a specific prayer that he had made on November 1st. She answered his prayer by assuring him that he was indeed the legitimate claimant to the throne. Even though Charles believed her words to be true, he still wanted Joan to be examined by a group of theologians in order to test her orthodoxy. She was sent to the city of Poiters and was questioned there for three weeks before they gave her an approval and told Charles that he could grant her command of an army (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1.htm).
Joan was provided with a suit of armor and a banner with a picture of “Our Savior” holding the world with two angels at the sides. This is when Joan began to reform the troops at Blois, about 35 miles southwest of Orleans. She began expelling the prostitutes from the camp. She even made the soldiers go to church and to confess, give up swearing and to refrain from looting and harassing the civilians. It is amazing to to see how much of an effect Joan had on the entire army (http://www.therussells.net/papers/joan/).
Many battles were won after Joan took charge and the Royal Council thought that it was a good time to negotiate with Burgundy, while the military was weak and helpless. But Joan insisted that the Voices ordered her to lead the King to Rheims for his coronation. The towns under Burgundian or English rule surrendered one by one, and Rheims opened its gates, and on July 17th, the coronation took place. After the coronation, the beginning and the end of the “siege” of Paris began. Joan urged a speedy march to Paris, but it took six weeks to arrive at the walls of the capital and the King an additional two weeks. There was no support given, and the attack failed terribly. On March 23rd, Joan left the Royal Court to join the French forces at Lagny. In late April, the Voices warned her that she would be taken as prisoner before the feast of St. John the Baptist. From that day on, she left all the decision making to the captains. Joan of Arc was captured on May 23rd. under the walls of Compiegne (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1.htm).
Joan was originally in the hands of Jean de Luxembourg, but in November, she was sold by Jean de Luxembourg to the English and transferred to Rouen. She was imprisoned in the castle and put in an iron cage while her trial began, which was at the end of January. She was chained by the waist, wrists and ankles to a heavy beam. She was watched by three soldiers day and night who tormented her with nasty and insulting remarks (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1.htm). The Duke of Bedford chose the method of having Joan judged and convicted by the ecclesiastical court at Rouen under his supervision, not in the law courts, but in the castle. He appointed Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, to be the presiding judge. He was a Frenchman in the pay of England. He was a very deceiving, cunning man, The Regent kept Cauchon pliable and dutiful by luring him with the possibility of a higher reward (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1htm).
The course that Cauchon, Bedford and the judges decided to follow was that Joan of Arc claimed that her vision was from God and if it were true, it meant that God was against England. It also meant that theirs was a tribunal traitor. So they concluded that either Joan lied, or if she did have these visions, they came from the devil. In order to prove this, they had to discredit her, show her to be superstitious and unreligious. They also had to prove her guilty of theft, perjury, murder and suicide. Then she could not possibly be sent from God but the Devil (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1htm). This was a set up where Joan had no way out.
After the judges made up their minds that the visions of Joan were from the evil spirits, they insisted that Joan should agree as well. Every Christian must accept the decision of the Church, otherwise he/she is a heretic. Since Joan could not deny her visions and voices, she was accused of being a heretic. It is interesting to note that through her trial, the French King was not represented. The accusation produced no names, no documents, no evidence, no proofs nor witnesses (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1.htm). In the churchyard of St. Ouen, Joan signed a recantation, a promise saying that she will not “bear arms and not wear male attire” (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1.htm). But three days later, her dress was taken from her, and she had no choice but to put on the male clothing that was laid out in front of her. This, to the judges, was sufficient enough to revive the death sentence. So essentially, Joan is being condemned for wearing male attire, which she had no choice but to wear. This is an unbelievable condemnation, but sadly enough, it was good enough to give her the death sentence.
On May 30, three Dominicans came to her to bring her bad news. They declared her a schismatic and heretic. She was taken away by a cart to the market place. She was led to the tumbrel, pushed into it and the procession started (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JOAN1.htm). She stood at the platform facing Cauchon, Bedford and the Tribunal listening to her sentence quietly and patiently. She was then taken to the stake and handed to the executioner. She asked for a cross and a soldier made one with two pieces of wood tied together. Then her arms were pinned behind her back and she was chained to the stake. She yelled out the name of Jesus over and over again in a voice that could be heard all over the marketplace. Those were her last words as the flame rose and her head bent down.
It seems unjust that Joan was condemned to death when she was the one who saved France from England. Joan of Arc was an innocent victim of political and national controversies. In May 13, 1920 Pope Benedict XV declared her to be one of God’s great servants and declared she was to be honored as Saint Joan, Virgin.
|Main||The Life of St. Joan of Arc||Memento Mori||What Women Most Desire||Links||work cited|